A national favourite and staple food, pasta is one of Italy’s great loves. With innumerable variations and age-old approaches to making it, eating pasta in Italy is a delicious but daunting task. While it’s unlikely you’ll be able to try every pasta dish in one trip (and you know you’ll be tempted to), we’ve put together a few of the essential eats and where to try them.
Tajarin al burro e salvia in Turin, Piedmont
The tajarin is tossed in sage butter and coated in percorino cheese
Up in the north of Italy is Piedmont, home to tajarin al burro e salvia, a dish that succeeds in its sheer simplicity. Tajarin is a pasta native to Piedmont, made with a higher number of egg yolks than others, giving it its signature golden colouring. In tajarin al burro e salvia, the pasta’s thin, delicate strands, lace through sizzling sage butter, and are then tossed lightly in pecorino cheese to coat, before being topped with fresh, cracked black pepper. Head to Tre Galli or Scannabue Caffè for helpings of homemade pasta, before nurturing a content stomach at the elegant Residenza Dell' Opera hotel.
Trenette al pesto in Genoa, Liguria
Trenette is the thick pasta that traditionally accompanies pesto
One of the most widely exported sauces in Italy, pesto finds its home in Liguria, and trenette al pesto plates it up in its most traditional, and arguably best, form. A narrow, flat pasta, trenette takes on the fragrant, basil and pine nut pesto, and its wonderfully green colouring. The pesto is simply garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and basil, and strictly made using a mortar and pestle. Often cooked served with potatoes and green beans, Genoa is this dish’s spiritual home and you’ll find options everywhere, so stay central at Hotel Palazzo Grillo.
Bigoli con l’anatra in Vicenza, Veneto
Whirl the bigoli around your fork and scoop up a juicy chunk of duck too
While the Veneto region has often looked to the sea for sustenance, head inland to the wetlands and the food becomes increasingly earthy. Enter bigoli con l’anatra – a thick spaghetti (three to four millimetres), in a herby, roasted duck ragu, with plenty of black pepper and cheese sprinkled over it. Bigoli was traditionally made with a bigolaro machine, but modern meat grinders can also give it its distinct thickness. Make the trip to the ‘Festa dei bigoli’ near Vicenza, a festival celebrating the region’s favourite pasta where you can fully indulge, and stay at Antico Hotel Vicenza.
Cappellacci di zucca in Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna
Pumpkin and squash are mashed before being wrapped up in golden doughy parcels
Hard to say 10 times fast, but easy enough to eat 10 times over (and then some), cappellacci di zucca from arty Ferrara is a well-chosen plate when passing through Emilia Romagna. The dish is simple – autumnal harvest vegetables such as pumpkin or butternut squash are baked and then mashed, before being stuffed into tiny, golden egg-dough parcels, the bold orange all buttoned-up into dainty little hats before being boiled. A brown butter and sage sauce is spooned over the cappellacci when done, with a sprinkle of salty parmesan added on top to finish. It’s a culinary dance through the autumn season in Ferrara and staying central at Borgoleoni18 will put you in prime position to explore nearby eateries.
Pappardelle al cinghiale in Florence, Tuscany
You'll find this dish throughout Tuscany – just don't mistake it for Bolognese
A drive through the Tuscan hills is one of Italy’s great adventures, and no journey would be complete without stopping by a roadside trattoria for a steaming plate of pappardelle al cinghiale. Long, wide, eggy ribbons of gorgeous pappardelle, wrapped around tender chunks of wild boar, all coated in a rich, tomato sauce, so made for being mopped up with crusty bread it could be scripted. Tuscany is full of options to try this, but pair your journey with a jaunt past Florence’s reverential architecture and eat at Osteria Cinghiale Bianco – Piccolo Borgo Antico is around the corner if you’re looking for somewhere to stay.
Spaghetti alla carbonara in Rome, Lazio
Carbonara is world-renowned, but head to Lazio for the traditional recipe
The jewel in Italy’s pasta crown, spaghetti alla carbonara is universally adored – but any Italian will remind you that this dish is not universally understood. Far removed from the lavish creams and bacon often added to carbonaras outside Italy, in Rome it’s a sacred dish consisting of egg yolks, pecorino Romano, black pepper and guanciale (cured pork cheek). The yolks, cheese and black pepper are whisked together, then added to the cooked guanciale before the pasta is poured over. It’s a matter of moments to get this dish right but it’s a Roman feast when achieved. Try the rigatoni version at Flavio al Velavevodetto, before retreating to Casa Modelli’s spacious terrace.
Pasta con le sarde in Palermo, Sicily
Salty sardines and sweet raisins combine for a perfectly balanced taste
While there’s no reason to stick to simply one Sicilian pasta dish, a good place to start is with pasta con le sarde. Made with thick bucatini (similar to spaghetti in shape), the robust saltiness of sardines pair with the aniseed of the fennel, while pine nuts, saffron and raisins soften and add sweetness. The result is a dish that’s a romp through the island’s flavours and influences. You’ll find pasta con le sarde all over Sicily, and especially in Palermo, where tomato sauce is notably prohibited from being added to the dish. Ciccio in Pentola is an excellent choice, and it’s close to the waterside L'Hôtellerie B&B.